Progress being made on West Point house destroyed by tornado

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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NORTH WEST POINT — A two-day volunteer project by the Carpenters for Christ saw much progress in building a new home for a West Point woman whose single-wide mobile home was seriously damaged in a March 29th tornado. A concrete block foundation was built, the walls raised and a roof put over a 1,000-square-foot structure by Saturday afternoon. There’s still the sheetrock to install and the plumbing and electrical work still needs to be done, but work is well on its way to being complete on a new home for Sara Ann Smith.

“What these men are doing for me is just wonderful,” Smith told The Valley Times-News on Saturday. “I have lived most of my life in this one place. Having a new house built here means I can go on being in the place I dearly love.”

It’s a quiet, serene setting at the end of Smith Road. Not far away are five small lakes and Long Cane Creek. A couple of miles west is West Point Lake.

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Sara Ann’s husband Jerry Smith died four years ago. He was a son of former West Point Police Chief Claude Smith, who died in 1992. She has children, grandchildren and close relatives living close by.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 29th, Smith was at home and being visited by two great grandchildren. They were in the den and had fallen asleep while watching TV. She was in a big lounge chair and the two boys in a pullout bed. The tornado brought down a large tree on the back side of the mobile home, leaving about a quarter of it unlivable. It happened mere feet away from where they were, bu fortunately no one was injured. Smith and the two boys were like dozens of others that morning. They came so close to being badly hurt or being killed in the storm, but miraculously everyone walked away from it.

Sara Ann’s niece, Heather Smith, lives next door and was awakened by the sound of the approaching tornado. “I will never forget it,” she said. “It sounded like an approaching freight train but without the horns and whistles.”

The Smiths are long accustomed to the sound of passing trains. The CSX main line between West Point and LaGrange is a short distance away on the east side of Long Cane Creek.

Heather’s dad was Smitty Smith, who ran Smitty’s Cycles not far away on Highway 29. Smitty and Jerry were brothers. They were from a family of three brothers and two sisters.

During his lifetime Jerry loved to hunt deer in the creek bottom areas near their home. The walls of the den are covered with some of his trophies. There are some deer heads and lots of antlers on plaques adorning the walls.

Sara Ann attends the First Baptist Church of Lanett and was well pleased that some men from the church were part of the Carpenters for Christ volunteer work project. “I was so glad to see Darrell Bishop, Joe Guntherberg and Don Wall here today,” she said. “I have been living here since I was a teenager. I lived one time in the Roper Heights neighborhood not far away from here.”

Since the tornado some six months ago now, a number of people whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged have moved away. Some people are making the effort to rebuild and stay in a place they love.

There are signs in the area of a community coming back. Bethel Baptist Church is being rebuilt on the same site where the church was demolished. Perhaps it was the hand of Providence that the tornado touched down several hours before the Sunday morning worship services would have been under way. The West Point Motel is also going to be rebuilt. The roof areas will have to be completely replaced, but the walls appear to be in good shape.

Not far away from Bethel Baptist, the home of Eddie and Winnie Houston is being rebuilt. Their family has pulled together to do it and are hoping to have a big Christmas celebration there this year.